All legal COVID-19 restrictions have ended. In one week’s time, if you have been double-jabbed, you will not have to self-isolate even if you come into contact with a positive test. Over 75% of the British population has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
So there we have it. The pandemic is over and everything is back to normal, right? I mean, on a day-to-day basis, depending on how you live your life, this might be true. But the reality is, the nation is still gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flick on any mainstream news channel and you will see reporters dissecting tiny increases or decreases in daily COVID-19 infections, deaths and hospitalisations.
Sky News remains particularly gripped by the pandemic. Throughout lockdown, before its show went to a break, there would be a reminder of what rules were in place to curb the spread of COVID-19; the rule of six, the two-metre rule, and so on.
And now, despite all restrictions having been lifted, such reminders still remain – except, there are no restrictions to remind us of. And so, the reminders simply state that there are no legal restrictions in place, as if anyone could forget.
This surmounts to a nation still mentally challenged by the last 18 months, unable to break free of its sheer obsession with daily figures, or the fear of things getting out of hand once again.
Cases are not low – yesterday, 23,510 people tested positive – nor are deaths, as 622 people died in the last seven days. But things are not as bad as they may seem.
Indeed, we must ask ourselves – do these figures equate to a significant disease burden? If 622 people died every week for an entire year, 32,444 people would die from COVID-19.
Of course, that is an extremely weak way to predict a potential yearly death toll from COVID-19. More would likely die in winter, though perhaps less would die in spring and summer, with there to be no artificial rise in cases in the immediate aftermath of a ‘Freedom Day’-style event.
Given that, on average, 30,000 people will die in a bad flu year, around 32,000-35,000 deaths would surely be an acceptable price to pay, right now, if it means we can continue to live our lives free from draconian restrictions?
This always seems like quite a harsh statement, and indeed a harsh trade-off. But as silly as it may seem to say, it needs saying – people die. People have died from COVID-19 and people will continue to die from COVID-19. People have died from other diseases and will continue to do so. It is something we simply must accept.
Vaccines will no doubt continue to save lives as uptake increases, and more prescriptive remedies will be developed, too. This means that in two or three years, yearly deaths from COVID-19 could average below 30,000. Chris Whitty himself stated that 25,000 deaths per year would be acceptable.
Seemingly, then, we are not far off that reality. So why all the panic? Why the continued obsession with daily rises and falls? The way certain people continue to treat the pandemic is no longer proportionate to the risk, especially in light of a recent report presented by scientist to MPs.
Speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on COVID-19, Professor Andrew Pollard, member of the Oxford vaccine team, stated: “Anyone who is still unvaccinated will, at some point, meet the virus.”
“We don’t have anything that will stop transmission, so I think we are in a situation where herd immunity is not a possibility.”
Given this reality, Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia, also told the Parliamentary group: “We need to start moving away from just reporting infections, or just reporting positive cases admitted to hospital, to actually start reporting the number of people who are ill because of Covid.”
“Otherwise we are going to be frightening ourselves with very high numbers that actually don’t translate into disease burden.”
Pollard went on to argue that continued mass testing would create a false sense of danger and would ultimately lead to a perpetual [and unnecessary] cycle of vaccination.
And yet, as noted, vaccines are never going to eliminate transmission. If we constantly use positive cases as reasons to re-vaccinate, the cycle will never be broken.
Pollard states that testing needs to move towards ‘clinically driven testing in which people are willing to get tested and treated and managed, rather than lots of community testing’.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done, both practically and mentally. If we stop mass testing, we might lose sight of virus hotspots and therefore find it difficult to locate those seriously ill with COVID-19, making it harder to treat them.
It is also a big leap to make considering the scale of testing in this country for the last 12 months. At times, we have been testing one million people every day. It is a remarkable feat of science. Now, though, it is simply not necessary.
Vaccines will continue to play an important role in fighting COVID-19. They will, essentially, turn COVID-19 into a very mild illness for most who catch it.
I, for one, can attest to this. Despite being double-jabbed, I contracted COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago. For a couple of days, it felt as though I had jumped in a pool and accidentally snorted the water; I also lost my sense of smell and taste. Perhaps most interestingly, I developed a crippling obsession with Hugh Grant rom-coms from the 1990s.
Two weeks later, I am completely fine, back in the gym and no longer longing for the love Grant’s characters so easily found. Ultimately, the vaccine did its job: it neutralised COVID-19 and saved my life. It is worth noting that I am a type-one diabetic and asthmatic, seemingly more vulnerable.
The vaccines work better than we could have ever hoped. They are saving lives. Now, we need to take the next big leap – it is time to truly live with COVID-19.